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Mary Magdalene: Model for Christian Joy

Mary Magdalene is a model for Christian joy. Other than the twelve apostles, she was one of Jesus’ closest companions. She accompanied Jesus on his journeys and supported him in his ministry. (see Luke 8:1-2) She heard his teachings first-hand and was a witness to his healings and miracles.


Mary was no stranger to great suffering. Before she met Jesus, she was tormented by seven demons (Luke 8:2). I imagine she experienced suffocating darkness with her demons. She was likely shunned by her community and tormented with physical and psychological pain. When Jesus healed her of her demons, she was completely transformed. Her suffering was turned into joy.


In addition to experiencing her personal suffering, she also experienced the suffering of Jesus through his passion and death. She was one of several women, including Jesus’ mother Mary, at the foot of the cross. Along with the Blessed Virgin, the Magdalene felt bitter anguish with every step toward Golgotha and Jesus’ crucifixion. She wept as the Romans nailed Jesus’ hands and feet to the cross and raised him up. She heard the words he spoke as he was dying. She may have held Mary as Mary held Jesus after he was taken down from the cross. She helped to wrap his bloodied body in the linens of burial and laid him in his tomb. Throughout that Sabbath, she mourned Jesus along with Mary and the others.


I am sure it was with a heavy heart that Mary rose on the Sunday morning. She likely hadn’t slept since before Jesus’ death. In her restless sorrow, she went to the tomb while it was still dark. She wanted to be alone to cry and mourn her Master and Lord. When she arried at the tomb, Mary was surprised to find that the stone had been rolled away and Jesus was no longer in the tomb. After she informed Simon Peter, she remained at the tomb weeping. As she wept, she saw two angels in the tomb, then turned toward a man behind her whom she didn’t recognize. When the man spoke her name, “Mary!,” she recognized her Teacher and was filled with great joy. Just as she had been surprised by the joy of being healed of her demons, she was surprised by the joy of Jesus’ resurrection.


Like Mary, we experience suffering: illness and injury, the effects of aging, sorrow and despair. Like her, we have the opportunity to be transformed by the healing power of Christ Jesus. In the touch of Christ Jesus, we can be surprised by joy.


Henri Nouwen writes:


“Be surprised by joy, be surprised by the little flower that shows its beauty in the midst of a barren desert, and be surprised by the immense healing power that keeps bursting forth like springs of fresh water from the depth of our pain.”


May this Easter be a celebration of the surprising joy that Christ offers us in his glorious resurrection.

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